Caring for Nella
How do I explain Nella?
Mom. My mom.
With every smile, the sun rises.
She sees the best in everyone, giving the Devil himself the benefit of the doubt.
She pushed me to achieve from a very young age.
Putting me in arts camps, swimming, music lessons, and the life changing
professional ballet training at a Balanchine school, after seeing
my eyes light up while watching the Nutcracker Suite
with Pennsylvania Ballet at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.
We are both dancers.
She was out Latin dancing — cha cha, meringue — with my dad when her water broke three weeks early.
She says to this day. “You heard the music and wanted to come out to join the party!”
She waltzed me around the kitchen every day.
Cooked gourmet meals.
Became a tourist concierge and guide in our native city, Philly
Folks who met Nella, even for a few minutes at the Visitors’ Center,
remembered her and sent her thank you notes and postcards from all over the globe.
Her parents who escaped poverty and antisemitism in Italy, taught her Italian.
She felt bewildered when attending first grade without
knowing a word of English, perhaps just as bewildered as she feels now,
when she forgets the date; where she lives or where she is going.
I am like her guide dog, giving her cues throughout the day.
She often asks me the same question several times a minute.
But we manage to laugh, often.
We walk in Central Park.
Gaze at portraits in the Met Museum.
I’ve taken her to Birdland to hear jazz, the music that my father played his entire life.
Memories flood back.
We hug a lot.
Like me, she experiences her greatest joy while dancing.
I’ve reenrolled her in Latin dance classes at the 92nd Street Y.
She forgets the names of her younger classmates but she inspires them all the same.
After my father’s death, when mom became a patient at The Pearl Barlow Center for
Memory (Alzheimers) my cousin said to me. “I’m sorry that she’s going to be such a burden,”
“Caring for my mother is the greatest privilege.”
She is my HEART. — Susan M. Kirschbaum